I emigrated to Australia at the beginning of the year 2000 after I retired from my professional career in Malaysia. Seeking ways to keep myself active while in retirement, I spoke to my Niece, Hazel, who was then a tour guide at the museum. She suggested that I too, volunteer as a tour guide for the museum. I instantly leapt at the opportunity.

The early days

When I first started, I was very much taken in by the friendly atmosphere, demonstrated largely by the Manager, Lucy, and Accountant, Pody. They welcome and treated me like part of the family. During that time, the museum was operating under very tight financial constraints. Looking for ways to improve the monetary situation, Lucy and Pody took initiative to explore, experiment and invent new activities such as paper lantern and kite-making. Other activities included engaging outside professionals to conduct and teach Chinese calligraphy, traditional dancing, drawing, kung fu martial art and tea ceremonies. When implemented they proved to be very popular. Schools often requested them in their tours which helped to grow the School bookings. Apart from that we took cost cutting measures such as using the blank back page of a printed paper for internal memos etc. To hire a copier machine was beyond our budget. So we had to resort to hiring it for public use at 7cents per copy. This helped to sustain the rental and maintenance of the machine. All these activities helped to improve the financial standing of the museum. I and the other staff felt exhilarated to have contributed to the museum in our small ways.

Tour guiding

Mindful to be a good tour guide I constantly researched into the historical and traditional details of each display item to make my tour presentations interesting. For example, research into the origin of " The Dictation Test " applied to foreign aliens revealed that it was Alfred Deakin, Govt. General, who was nominated to draft a bill to restrict and oust the aliens. He said " It is not the bad but the good qualities of the aliens that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their hardship endurance and their low level of living standard that make them very competitive." With that he legislated the dictation test in 1901 when the Federation of Colonies was formed. Ironically, today it is Deakin University (named after him) that encourages foreign students to study here.  

Also, research into the Chinese bound foot discovered that the smallest  bound feet was the " 3 inch Golden Lily ", known in Chinese as " San Chun Jin Lian ". Similarly, detailed research into the back grounds of items like the Terracotta warriors, the seismograph instrument, Dragon Boat festival and others make my tour presentations fascinating to the students. Therefore, serving as a tour guide not only allowed me to contribute to the museum, it also gave me the opportunity to learn deeply about Chinese-Australian history and culture.

On the front line 

The second half of my entire working period shifted to the front desk job as a VSO (Visitor Services Officer). For the last five years, I report to the Operations Manager, Ms. Erin. I find her to be a very friendly, affable, good natured person but a very firm and professional boss. It was my pleasure to work as her subordinate. At the front desk, I found that the museum not only serves as a place for its historical displays of artifacts connected to the gold field days but it also serves as a " Centre of All Things Chinese ". The front desk officers are the fore-front image of the museum. We have to be adequately equipped with a good knowledge of the museum's contents and to be well versed with the special events and festivals that are linked to the Chinese cultures and traditions. Calls are often received for information regarding events like the Chinese New Year Celebrations, Dragon Parade , Lantern festivals and many other events. The museum is closely associated with other Asian associations, more so with the local council. I remember that from the year 2004 to 2010, Melbourne Council invited its sister city, Tianjin of China, to participate in the Kite Festival each of those years to be held at the Royal Park. With their financial support the museum was also invited to actively participate with them. Our kite making stall was very popular with parents and their children eagerly lining up in long queues to try their hands at making the kites. Although the staff found manning the stall very exhausting but participating in the event was fun over those 6 years. It was a very rewarding experience.

I found that to be a good tour guide one has to have to be familiar with the founding of the origin of the museum and its philosophy. I have a strong inclination to know my fellow staff and their backgrounds to be able to work closely and cohesively with them. To my knowledge the existence of the museum was made possible by one family, the Wang family. Councillor David Wang and Mayor Ron Walker recognised the potential of Chinatown. So, in 1975, they were instrumental in restoring and beautifying the precinct. They installed Chinese arches at the ends of Little Bourke Street lining above with the lanterns, and cobbled stoneways with Chinese insignia " Double Happiness " inscribed at the end of Market Lane. With those make overs, they conferred the precinct area with the status title of " Chinatown ". It was the support and constant promotion of the Chinese community to preserve the history of the Chinese miners that spurred the state government to establish the Chinese Museum. Truly, in 1985, Hon. Don Dunstan, Minister of Tourism (former Minister of South Australia in the 1960's ), established the Museum of Australian Chinese History. The museum's philosophy is to preserve, research and disseminate the history of the Chinese looking for gold in Australia. Since then, the Councillor David Wang's family members have dedicated to the management and maintenance of the museum to its present ionic state. The present day CEO of the museum is Mr. Mark Wang, son of Councillor David Wang. With the presence of the museum, Chinatown today is a buzzling and vibrant corner of Melbourne. It attracts local, regional and overseas tourists to this " must visit " section of Melbourne. As a front desk officer, I often get the question " What is there to see in the museum? ". I would then direct them to read the patrons' written comments in the Comments Book to know how informative, awesome, unique and how iconic the museum is. Thanks to Mr. Mark Wang and his family members.

Lasting impressions 

In passing, I must mention the impressions I have of our Chairman, Mr. Bill Au. In my encounter, I find him a very busy and a ubiquitous person who darts in and out of the museum for meetings and presentations of special exhibitions. He is one who contributes immensely by working tirelessly behind the scene with his management staff to support and promote yearly fundraising and other events. For a man of his standing, I find him a humble, unassuming, friendly, likeable and a caring person. Despite being very busy, he spares the time to engage in friendly greetings with any staff he meets along the way. He is always there when needed. I admire him and I salute him as he commands my respect for him.

My twenty years of engagement with the museum have left me with fond memories of knowing this special place I work in, the networking of the friends that I get to know and the knowledge that I learnt from the museum. I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to be gainfully active during my retirement years. My experience with the museum is indeed a blessing. Herein I want to thank the management staff and friends who supported me over those wonderful years. It is truly my privilege and pleasure to have worked in the museum. 

By Boon Tan, "Uncle Boon".